The Hating Game
Page 29

 Sally Thorne

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In the privacy of my mind I can imagine whatever I want, and they aren’t progressive, twenty-first-century thoughts.
They’re depraved, brutal cavewoman thoughts. In my mind, he’s electric with the animal instinct to protect me, his heavy muscle braced over my body. He absorbs each impact and it is his privilege. He’s injected sharp and hard with nature’s superdrug, testosterone.
I’m wrapped in him, safe from anything the world wants to throw at me. Anything painful or cruel will have to get through him before it has any chance of touching me. And it will never happen.
I scream when I realize that resonating voice isn’t in my imagination and cling to the tiles.
“Don’t come in!” I did close the door. Thank you, guardian angels. I cross my arms over all of my X-rated zones.
“Of course I won’t,” he snaps.
“I am completely naked. Bruises . . .” I’m a Monet watercolor; purple water lilies floating in green. He says nothing.
“Well, go out. Into the living room.”
My skin hurts when I towel myself. I crack the bathroom door open and hear silence. I scurry out and find underwear, a heinous beige bra, shorts, and an old crappy pajama top with a picture of a cute dinosaur on it, his drowsy eyes half closed. Underneath him reads: SLEEPYSAURUS.
I’m naked and putting on clothes, separated from Joshua by only by a wall. I love you, wall. What a good wall. I toss myself so hard into bed the mattress squeaks, and it’s the last thing I hear.
I WAKE UP in a volcano. “No! No!”
“I’m not poisoning you. Quit squirming.” Joshua’s hand is behind my neck as he presses two pills onto my tongue. I swallow water and then he lowers me flat.
“My mother always gave me lemonade. And she’d sit with me. Whenever I woke up, she’d still be there. Did yours?” I sound like I’m five years old.
“My parents were too busy on shift looking after other sick people to do that stuff for me.”
“Yep, except me.” An edge in his voice denotes a sore topic.
I feel his hand on my forehead, fingers light and stiff. “Let’s do a temperature check.”
“I feel so fucking stupid.” My voice is garbled due to the thermometer he’s put into my mouth. He must have bought it, because I don’t own one. I’m currently inside a moment destined to become the most cringe-worthy memory of my life.
“You’ll never let me live this down.” That’s what I try to say. Thanks to the thermometer it comes out like I’ve got a head injury.
“Sure I will. Don’t chew the thermometer,” he replies quietly, taking it out of my mouth.
“We don’t want you to get over one hundred four.” In the low evening light, his eyes are darkened navy as he assesses me almost clinically, before smoothing his hand over my forehead again, softly, not checking my temperature. My pillow is adjusted a little. His eyes are not the man I know.
“Okay. Please stay for a minute. But you can leave if you want.”
“Lucy, I’ll stay.”
When I eventually dream, it’s about Joshua sitting on the edge of my mattress, watching me sleep.
Chapter 10
I’m vomiting. Joshua Templeman is holding a large Tupperware container under my face—the one I usually carry cakes to work in. I can smell the sweet-plastic residue of icing and eggs. I throw up more. His wrist is holding up my limp head, my hair gathered in his fist.
“This is so disgusting,” I groan in between heaves. “I’m so—I’m so—”
“Shh,” he replies and I fall asleep, shuddering and gasping, while he wipes my face with something cold and damp.
The clock says 1:08 A.M. when I sit upright again. A wet compress falls into my lap. I jerk in fright at the weight on the bed next to me.
“It’s me,” Joshua says. He’s sitting against my headboard with his thumb in a Smurf price guidebook. He’s got no shoes on and his socked feet are casually crossed at the ankles. The other books have been stacked neatly on my dresser.
“I’m so cold,” I chatter. I put my hand into my hair; it’s still damp from my shower. He shakes his head. “You have a fever. It’s getting worse.”
“No, cold,” I argue. I stumble into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. I pee, flush, and then realize how unladylike I was. Oh, well. He’s seen and heard almost everything now. There’s nothing left to do but fake my own death and start a new life.
I use my finger to rub some toothpaste on my tongue. Gag. Repeat.
I hear cotton unfurling, the snap of elastic, and the creak of mattress, and through the crack in the door I watch him put fresh sheets on the bed. I’m a soggy, disgusting mess, but I still manage to watch his bent-over backside.
“How You Doing?” He looks at me under his arm and hauls the last corner of the sheet into place. My lucky mattress is being manhandled.
“Oh, just fine. How You Doing?” I fall into bed, and claw the blankets up onto me. The mattress depresses heavily beside me and his hand is on my forehead.
“Ah, that’s nice.”
His hand feels like the sort of temperature I should be striving for. Everything we do is tit for tat, so I raise my hands up and put them on his forehead.
“Okay.” He is amused.
I’m touching my colleague Joshua on the face. I’m dreaming. I’ll wake up on the bus with him sneering at the trail of drool on my chin. But a minute ticks by, and I don’t.
I slide my hands down, over sandpaper grit on his jaw, remembering how he cradled my face in the elevator. No one has ever held me like that. I open my eyes and I could swear he shivers. I touch his pulse. It touches me back.
I have my hands on his throat now, and I remember how badly I wanted to strangle him once. I spread my hands lightly around his neck, just to check the fit, and he narrows one eye.
“Go ahead,” he tells me. “Do it.”
His throat is way too big for my tiny hands. I feel a tension shimmering through him, a tightening in his body. There’s a sound in his throat.
I’m hurting him. Maybe I’m strangling him to death right now. Color is sweeping up his neck. When he pins me with his eyes, I know something’s coming. I am not prepared when it happens.
The world explodes apart as he begins to laugh.